Hoping to alleviate public safety concerns, Charlottesville officials are planning to spend $188,000 in the next two fiscal years to install 15 streetlights throughout the downtown area.
The city recently declined to subsidize some of the operational costs of the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville, but the expenditure for the new streetlights is nearly four times the amount the association asked the city to spend on improving infrastructure downtown.
The city’s proposed five-year capital budget includes $94,000 allocations in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 just for lighting.
“The current CIP request would allow the city to supplement the existing lighting conditions to a safer, uniform level,” said Tony Edwards, manager of development services for the city.
“The lighting installations will be contracted out in accordance with the established city lighting standards and relevant codes,” Edwards said. “We currently have a general estimate of cost and will be developing a more specific scope of work and cost estimate as part of the design and bidding process.”
The $188,000 allocation would fund installation of light fixtures on Market Street from Second Street Northwest to Eighth Street Northeast and on Water Street from Second Street Southwest to Fifth Street Southeast.
A 2016 joint study by the University of Virginia and the city, conducted by Richmond engineering firm RK&K, was inconclusive about whether lighting increases safety. The study looked at places around downtown and the university and ranked their need for lighting based on the number of pedestrians and measured light levels.
“The reports showed that a high number of crimes were occurring in areas with adequate lighting, such as the Downtown Mall. Thus, the correlation between crime and lighting was not clear, and was therefore not included in the quantitative scoring system,” the RK&K report said.
But members of the business community say additional lighting downtown is necessary to quell perceived safety issues.
In January, the business association requested $250,000 from the city to support an economic recovery program after last year’s series of white nationalist rallies that preceded a citywide sales slump.
The association’s plan proposed allocating $100,000 to marketing; $100,000 for office space rental and association staff costs; and $50,000 for lighting and other enhancements to the mall.
With other members of the downtown business association, Joan Fenton, the organization’s chairwoman, is working to develop a plan to have more affordable, cost-efficient lighting fixtures placed on privately owned buildings to improve the sense of security downtown.
Last month, Fenton met with the PLACE Design Task Force, an advisory committee that helps guide city planning policy, to seek its support for that idea.
Mark Schuyler, a local illumination engineer who is helping the business association with the informal plan, also attended the meeting and gave a demonstration on what kind of cost-efficient lights can be used.
“I’m hoping there’s something we can do in the near future to get some wall-mounted lights on some of the buildings to enhance lighting on the mall in a way that is forward looking rather than just putting a light here or there,” Fenton said.
Property owners with buildings on “highly traveled blocks where people are concerned with the lighting” should help improve public security by agreeing to add lighting fixtures on their buildings, she added.
Fenton said she’s concerned that the city’s current plan may not be enough to address the concerns about lighting on the mall.
“Not everything needs a pole light if you do something nice on the buildings,” she said.
In addition to allocating funds for the new streetlights, the City Council recently approved a $75,000 grant to the downtown business association for marketing.